How Working on Your Own Mental Health Can Benefit Your Children
What may also be difficult to realize is how your way of being – your mood, your reactions, and your coping mechanisms, are all influencing how your child will begin to respond to emotional or mental challenges in life.
It may feel like you are spending every waking moment of every day attending to your child, and it is a wonderful thing to see parents who cast some of their own needs aside to do what is best for their child. But when parents put all of their needs aside, they may be doing more harm than good, particularly when it comes to their own mental health and emotional wellbeing. As a parent, sometimes the best way to help your child manage their mental health starts with managing your own. Here are a few things you can do to help your child develop a healthy understanding of mental health and foster a positive environment at home.
Be open about emotions and foster emotional intelligence.
The tendency is for many parents to hide their emotions and shut them down quickly because they do not want their children to be exposed to something, they either believe is negative or think their child will perceive as negative. When you try to bury your own emotions, it can lead to more significant issues down the road, such as lashing out, engaging in unhealthy coping strategies, or even constant moodiness. Of course, we all react differently to things, and it depends on the nature of the problem, but the bottom line is that your child will notice some if not all these reactions.
Children are always looking to their parents to tell them and show them how to be, apart from all the moments of defiance or misbehavior. At the end of the day, you are their most considerable influence, and you are in a powerful position to both tell and show them that all emotions are more than okay. Depending on how old your child is, you could use various techniques to help them better understand feelings. The biggest thing is that you make a consistent effort to talk about them, whether helping them understand yours or their own. By not being afraid to express your emotions and showing them, it is okay to express their own, you help them develop high emotional intelligence that leads to higher levels of acceptance and sympathy for themselves and others. Emotional intelligence will also help them develop a level of self-awareness necessary for future communication and interpersonal skills, and more importantly, self-management of their own behaviors and emotions.
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Normalize therapy and mental health counseling.
As you begin to communicate more with your child, help them understand that sometimes people need a little more communication to help cope with their feelings and that there is nothing wrong with that. Being available to keep up with your own therapy sessions will display to your child a few things: that you care about yourself and that it is essential to care for yourself, and that therapy really is a normal thing that people do because they will see you making a consistent effort to attend. Not only does being consistent with your own therapy help normalize therapy in their minds, but you going to therapy all ties back into the bigger picture of taking care of your mental health so you can have a more positive mood, thereby influencing your child’s mood.
Now, they may not notice all the subtle shifts, understand more complex emotions, or notice your progress as clearly as you will, but that is not necessarily the point. The point is that consistent therapy can help promote a more constant mood for you because what they will notice are the significant moments of mood swings, anger, stress, anxiety, and the unhealthy responses and coping mechanisms that can follow those symptoms.
Practice healthy coping strategies with your children
One of the best things you can do for your child’s mental health is, of course, to lead by example. You can also include them in doing healthy activities for coping, helping to teach them good mental health habits from such a young and moldable age. The following techniques can be used whether to teach them and work with them through difficult emotions as they come, or simply incorporate into their everyday life to help maintain positive mental health:
Breathing – Explaining how the breath impacts mental health might be too complicated of a subject for your child to understand, but if you tell them that it is something they can do when feeling emotional and let them know how much it helps you, they are likely to take your word for it. There are many ways you can do this with your child on a level they will understand and be able to do on their own when not with you. One example is to have them pretend like there is a balloon in their belly that they need to inhale and expand and breathe out to deflate. They will enjoy a breathing technique if you can turn it into something fun and visual for them.
Journaling or Doing Art– Depending on the age of the child, journaling or doing art will help significantly. When they are older, you can help your child keep a mood journal. It can be something as simple as a check-in at the beginning and end of each day, where they circle a smiley face that represents the mood they are feeling. You can help them if needed to fill out a section that explains why they feel that way but do not pressure them to share. If you find your child feels shy about sharing, try explaining to them about a time when you felt whichever mood they have circled. When they are younger, you can do art activities with them where they can draw a picture about how they are feeling.
Exercise – Children are more likely to be active in an environment that encourages it. Even just seeing you hit the gym yourself or work out at home regularly can spark some curiosity in them. You will often see they want to join in with you or that they mimic you and do it on their own. It will not only make you feel proud, but it will allow the moment for you to let them know that you work out not only to get physically stronger but to develop a healthier and more resilient mind. Motivate them to join you, and get outside whenever possible, because spending time in nature will also do wonders for you both.
Taking care of yourself and your child might feel like an impossible task at times and that is normal when life is constantly busy and you’re juggling many things at once. Just remember that, even if they are not always directly involved, everything positive you do for yourself will have more of a positive impact on your child than a negative one. Ideally, though, you can keep searching for practical things that you can do daily or weekly with your child and develop positive mental health together! If you’d like to have support in this process, we have therapists at Elliott Counseling Group who are here to help.
About the Contributor
Proofed and Verified by: Rachel Bunyard, LCPC
Mandy is a creative and multi-passionate marketer. She is responsible for supporting, developing and executing strategic marketing campaigns. She works on all marketing pieces for the company from the life of the website, email marketing, social media and outreach to support brand awareness around all things Elliott Counseling Group offers.
Rachel is the Clinical Team Leader who plays a dual-role in providing therapy services to clients along with supervising other therapists at Elliott Counseling Group. She helps train incoming licensed therapists and enjoys creating content to promote professional development for the staff.
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